By JAMIE ROMM
While they may not have been the markings of a pair of Naot sandals, Israel Antiquities Authority conservators discovered footprints over 1,700 years old in early October under the Lod mosaic and at least one print resembling a modern sandal.
Head of the Israel Antiquities Authority Art Conservation Branch Jacques Neguer said that when removing a section of a mosaic, it is customary to clean its bedding, and study the material from which it is made and the construction stages. It was during that process that they found the footprints under the mosaic.
"We look for drawings and sketches that the artists made in the plaster and marked where each of the tesserae will be placed," Neguer said.
"This is also what happened with the Lod mosaic: beneath a piece on which vine leaves are depicted, we discovered that the mosaic's builders incised lines that indicate where the tesserae should be set, and afterwards, while cleaning the layer, we found the imprints of feet and sandals: sizes 34, 37, 42 and 44."
He said that similarities of the footprints of the sandals lie in the fact that sandals today are based on the footwear of the past.
"They're simple," Neguer said. "If it's comfortable, why change it."
The 1,700-year-old mosaic, which is one of the largest in Israel, was discovered Lod in 1996 and was covered again when funding could not be found for its conservation.
In 2009, after efforts were made to raise the large amount required to treat the artifact, the authority received a contribution from the Leon Levy Foundation specifically earmarked for the purpose of conserving and developing the site, in cooperation with the Lod Municipality.
The mosaic was reexcavated, exhibited to the public and is now being removed from the area for treatment in the authority's conservation laboratories.
The mosaic has colorful depictions of mammals, birds, fish, floral species, and sailing and merchant vessels in use at the time. The authority believes that the mosaic floor was part of a villa that belonged to a wealthy man in the Roman period.
"Based on the concentration of foot and sandal prints it seems that the group of builders tamped the mortar in place with their feet," Neguer said. "The mosaic consists of three parts that different artists built, probably in different periods."
He said that there were different kinds of art on the mosaic, and that the conservators could see that the hands that affixed the tesserae were different: a trained eye also recognizes that the preparation which was done prior to the work is different.
"Besides the necessary professionalism, exposing the footprints is also the result of a lot of luck," Neguer said. "It is not always possible to cut the layers of the mosaic precisely so that we discover such a clear picture of the plaster with the incising on it."
The prints will be removed from the area and will be conserved and returned to the site together with the mosaic, to the Shelby White and Leon Levy Lod Mosaic Archeological Center in Lod, which is something that Neguer is excited about.
"To see something like this is absolutely splendid," Neguer said. "It is impossible to say in words because you see how you are connected to these people from 1,700 years ago with your own eyes. It is a remarkable continuity." Â
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